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Driver in deadly wrong-way crash previously convicted of DUI

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeDrunk Driving

The woman who authorities say was drunk when she drove the wrong way on the 60 Freeway, killing six people, will be arrested on suspicion of DUI causing great bodily injury and manslaughter when released from the hospital, authorities say.

Olivia Carolee Culbreath is 21 now, but when she was 17, she was convicted of drunk driving in San Bernardino County, Department of Motor Vehicles officials said. State records also show that she was cited for traffic violations at least two other times. The DMV said the restrictions on her license hadn’t been lifted until last week.

The revelations come as authorities try to piece together how the crash occurred.

About 4:40 a.m. Sunday, witnesses saw Culbreath’s red Camaro zoom east down the westbound 60 Freeway around 100 mph until it collided with a red Ford Explorer, which then smashed into a third car. Several people were ejected from the vehicles, and only Culbreath and Joel Cortez, the driver of the silver Ford Freestyle, survived the crash.

Cortez said in an interview Monday that the crash occurred during what was a typical Sunday morning for him. By his account, here's what happened:

The 57-year-old woke up before dawn, got ready to head to his job as a technician in the City of Industry and asked God to protect three things: his children, the road and his job.

He left home in Ontario, tuned in to one of his favorite Spanish radio stations and headed west on the 60 Freeway along the route that usually takes 20 minutes. He settled into a lane and trailed a Ford Explorer for about 10 minutes. Then, in a whoosh, he saw red vehicle fly through the air. He tried to swerve.

Something jammed into the passenger side of his car, and he felt his airbag push into him. Then his car slammed into the center wall that divides the freeway. He looked outside and saw something in the road. In the morning darkness it looked like a big bag.

Then he heard a scream: “There are bodies all over.”

He peeked outside. There was twisted metal, wheels and blood. He stayed in the car and called his children. Soon paramedics showed up and flashed a light in his face. After seeing that he was alive and seemed OK, a paramedic asked him to wait a bit — others were worse off.

The four people in the Explorer, all of whom died, have been identified as relatives Gregorio Mejia-Martinez, 47; Leticia Ibarra, 42; Jessica Jasmine Mejia, 20; and Ester Delgado, whose age wasn’t immediately available.

The two passengers in Culbreath’s car — a 24-year-old relative, Maya Culbreath, and Kristin Melissa Young, 21 — both died.

A woman who answered the door at the Culbreath family home in Fontana choked up and said, “I'm just the grandmother, but I've more or less lost two babies.”

“I can't answer anymore. I'm sorry,” she said, her eyes downcast as she shut the front door.

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hailey.branson@latimes.com

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